At a Conservative party conference fringe event last Sunday, Lord Bethell, a health minister, was asked where he thought Britain ranked in the world in terms of its response to the pandemic. ‘I think there have been some outstanding pieces of delivery that have not been fully appreciated,’ he said. ‘And I think it will be like the Olympics, that when it’s all over and we look back and reflect, we will actually be extremely proud of ourselves.’
A few hours later, Public Health England confessed that it had failed to include 15,841 people who’d tested positive for Covid-19 between 25 September and 2 October in the daily updates and had added them to Sunday’s total. Presumably, Lord Bethell wouldn’t describe that as an outstanding piece of delivery. Nor, I imagine, would he include the government’s failure to provide NHS staff and care home workers with sufficient PPE, the decision to suspend community testing and then ramp it up again, the U-turn on face masks, the abandonment of the NHS’s original Track and Trace app and one built using Apple-Google technology, the fact that the latter didn’t work properly when it was first rolled out and the failure of PHE to anticipate the extent of public demand for testing when schools and universities reopened. True, there were several cock-ups in the run-up to the 2012 Olympics, but it’s hard to imagine what the Covid equivalent of GB’s medal haul will be. Which aspect of the government’s response to the crisis does Lord Bethell think we’ll look back on with pride?
No doubt the junior minister interpreted the question as a veiled attack on his boss and was just being loyal. Matt Hancock has come under so much fire since the beginning of March there’s been speculation that Boris Johnson is only keeping him in the cabinet as a human shield.